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Zicam inventor to plead guilty to marketing unapproved drug

July 27, 2011 | 12:17 pm

A Southern California man who invented the popular cold treatment Zicam has agreed to plead guilty to marketing an unapproved drug that he claimed in 2005 could prevent and treat flu.

Charles B. Hensley of Redondo Beach was indicted in May on 12 felony charges related to sales of an influenza-treatment product called Vira 38 without Food and Drug Administration approval.

Hensley agreed to plead guilty to one of those charges under an agreement with prosecutors. Free on $5,000 bond, he is scheduled to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 8 to enter the plea. Under the plea deal, the remaining charges would be dismissed.

Hensley's attorney, Kerry Bensinger, could not immediately be reached for comment on the case.

The indictment alleges that Hensley directed the shipment of 26 bottles of the drug from Hong Kong to customers in the United States. Vira 38 was marketed on the website for Hensley's company, PRB Pharmaceuticals, which was based in Cypress, according to the indictment.

Hensley had initially tried to sell the drug in Hong Kong. When authorities there would not approve it, he started marketing it on the Internet, according to the indictment.

In the 1990s, Hensley obtained patents for a zinc-based gel that was marketed as a cold remedy under the brand name Zicam. The product was originally made to be applied inside the nose with a swab.

In 2009, the FDA ordered Zicam's manufacturer, Matrixx Initiatives of Scottsdale, Ariz., to stop selling the zinc swabs because they can damage users' sense of smell.

-- Stuart Pfeifer